Hip Hop has never been more popular and acceptable in Africa as it is today. Even with this popularity, acceptance, and attention, African Rappers have received in recent years; most rappers as compared to singers still find it difficult to make it big in the mainstream market. And making it big goes beyond being famous and getting signed to a record label, it is also about being responsible with your money and being able to provide a sustainable and better means of living for yourself as a rapper; the fame should also come with money, you know.
Hitting the mainstream market in this context basically means being successful as an artiste, releasing songs that top the charts, getting the money, getting the endorsements, and staying relevant. It is quite easy for regular singers to get all these things but not that easy for rappers though.
If we look back in previous years, how many African rappers are considered by fans at the end of every passing year as their best artiste for the year? How many rap tracks pick up awards for best song of the year?
Let’s take AFRIMA (All Africa Music Awards) as a case study. Using AFRIMA as an example, rappers hardly ever emerge as winners of these three major categories: Artiste of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the year.
Here are some African Artistes who have bagged home AFRIMA awards in the three categories of Artiste of the year, Song of the Year and Album of the year from 2014 t0 2019.
AFRIMA Artiste of the year
|2016||Wizkid||Final (Baba Nla)||Nigeria|
|2017||Come Closer||Come Closer||Nigeria|
AFRIMA Song of the year
|2015||Jose Chameleone||Wale Wale||Uganda|
|2018||GuiltyBeatz, Mr. Eazi, Patapaa, and Pappy Kojo||Akwaaba||Ghana – Nigeria|
AFRIMA Album of the year
|2014||Olamide||Baddest Guy Ever Liveth||Nigeria|
|2015||Charlotte Dipanda||Elle n’a pas vu||Cameroon|
|2016||Ahmed Soultan||Music Has No Boundaries||Morocco|
|2017||Eddy Kenzo||Shuari Yako||Uganda|
|2019||Sauti Sol||Afrikan Sauce||Kenya|
All these artistes who have picked up different awards at AFRIMA over the years, with the exception of Olamide and Pappy Kojo, none of them are hip hop artistes. What accounts for this trend? Why do African rappers hardly ever make it big?
Here are some of the possible reasons for this trend:
Hip Hop itself is a pretty complicated genre of music. Therefore sounding good is key. As a rapper, you have to sync in with the melody and that is something most of our African rappers find very difficult to do.
Not talented enough – Being able to impress and doing everything twice. As a rapper, you don’t just have to be talented but twice as talented, compared to a regular single. It is about being able to impress and standing out. They are several rappers in Africa and for you to gain a significant portion of the audience; you have to be different because if you are just rapping like everyone else, then there is nothing so special about you that would want to make fans love you and your work.
Talent isn’t enough. Yes, we have established that to make it as a good African rapper, you have to be very talented but at the end of the day, talent isn’t just enough. There’s a saying: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” It goes way beyond talent. A lot of African rappers think that if they can rap good then everything will work well for them; they will get famous and get the money. This leads to a false sense of entitlement and pride. They feel like they are owed success because they are skilled and talented. This eventually leads to bitterness once they realize things aren’t panning out the way they had expected them to. These types of rappers just don’t work hard enough because they think their talent is going to get them all they need, but that hardly ever works. Talent + Laziness are never equal to success.
Hip-Hop is not originally from Africa, it is a borrowed genre of music. Hip Hop originated from New York, USA in the 1970s. Hip hop music became popular in Africa in the early 1980s due to widespread African American influence. Even with its popularity across the continent, “rap” in itself is still considered very foreign to most Africans. They don’t really consider it as part of their culture. It is quite easy for Africans across all age groups to enjoy Afro-pop or Afro beat, dance and sing along when they hear such songs play but that is not the same with rap. How many Africans above 40 would you hear them rapping along when you hear a rap song play. It appears this genre of music makes sense only to the youths. This means the audience for this genre is already limited to only a particular age group and therefore it still boils down to the fact that to succeed as a good rapper in Africa, you have to be different and outstanding.
Just don’t be regular, do something different. It could be by making it sound more African, perhaps by bringing the African culture and style into it. And that is exactly what rappers like Phyno and Olamide from Nigeria and Sakordie from Ghana are doing. And that is why they are very successful rappers. Phyno raps very well in Igbo, Olamide does same with Yoruba and Sarkodie also raps in his native language Twi.
In Cameroon, Stanley Enow and Jovi are considered the country’s greatest rappers because they have also infused the Cameroonian concepts, styles, trends and languages into their rap and their songs also reflect the Cameroonian reality.
So what can African rappers do differently to hit the mainstream markets?
Work hard and be relentless. Don’t just rely on your talent and be lazy. Remember, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Look at all our cited examples on successful rappers – whether it’s superstars like Olamide, Phyno, Sakordie or Stanley Enow. One constant thing they will all tell you is that they have put in long hours above everything else into their careers. And of course, in addition to putting in the long hours working on your craft; you also have to put in hours distributing and promoting the music, fine-tuning your live performances, engaging with fans online and offline, and constantly educating yourself on the business side of your craft.
Gaining Knowledge on the music industry
According to Rap Coalition founder and music industry veteran, Wendy Day, “I think the most important trait is seeking out the knowledge and experience to do this properly. You either hire the right people who have the knowledge and connections to help you succeed as an artist or you learn how to do this yourself.”
Educating yourself thoroughly and ensuring that you understand how the rap business works in Africa, understanding your audience and knowing what they want will make a huge difference in your success as a rapper.
Be culturally and environmentally oriented. Try to make your rap music reflect the culture and trends around you. Yes, rap music is not originally from Africa but you can make it sound African and make it appealing to African. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense if you are an African rapper and your audience is in Africa and you rap as though you are rapping to Americans. That will definitely be a miss.
Produce regular content for fans
There is arguably nothing as important as consistency for an artiste generally and it matters even more for a hip hop artiste. Rap music may not appeal to many Africans, so it becomes worse when you drop a track this year and then, wait until a year or two to drop another. That is not really good for your career because fans are always hungry for more and when they don’t get it, they will look elsewhere.
All in all, as a rapper just work hard, learn from those who are doing it right, be patient, be consistent, network and let your rap be African enough, so it can appeal to your audience.